I was only nine years old when India won their first Test match at the Home of Cricket. I’d just started taking cricket seriously and even at that tender age I realised that winning a Test match at Lord’s was a serious business.
My seniors wouldn’t stop talking about the famous win and my coach would be quick to remind me that it is for this very reason that one must aspire to play cricket. If a cricketer had a bucket list, winning a Test match at Lord’s would be right up there along with scoring a ton or taking a five-for at the same venue.
There’s simply so much history attached to this venue and you want to be a part of it before you hang up your boots. But it’s not that simple for, if it were, the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Ricky Ponting, Brian Lara and Jacques Kallis would have registered their names on the ‘honours board’ a long time ago.
Most countries, except Australia, visit England once in four years and usually Lord’s hosts the first or the second Test of the series. It takes time to get used to the English conditions, especially for the teams from the Sub-continent and before you get the hang of it, the opportunity to make a mark at Lord’s gets lost.
If the quintessential English conditions don’t get you, the slope at Lord’s definitely does. Even though the slope is only 2.5 inches on the pitch, the moment you stand in the crease or run in to bowl, you realise that it’s enough to put you off your natural game.
While facing the bowler from the Nursery End, you feel that the body is falling forward and it’s quite easy to get sucked into nicking the balls that you shouldn’t be playing. At the other end, you feel that you’re falling backwards and once again, your judgment of lines get blurred. It’s equally discomforting forthe bowlers, for the slopes take the ball away or bring it in without your knowledge or control.
To add to this, England dished out one of the greenest pitches Lord’s has seen for a long long time for the second Test. Winning the toss was like winning half the match and India lost that crucial toss. Now, surely, it was only about dragging the Indian batsmen on the front-foot and making them play, but that didn’t happen.
England lost the first session courtesy of some wayward bowling and disciplined batting. Even though they came back strongly in the second session, they lost the steam and the intent as soon as the third session began. It was preposterous to bowl defensively and wait for the second new ball when India were reeling at 145-7. But Alastair Cook chose to do that and lost the day and, perhaps, the match.
Allowing India to score 291 on that pitch meant England had to not only play catch-up but also to play out of their skins to make up for the lost ground. Only a substantial first innings lead would have ensured a positive spin to their fortunes but that didn’t happen either.
From there on it went downhill quite rapidly. Beating England at their own game means that the hosts will have no clue about the kind of surface they should prepare henceforth.
England did the same to India when they conquered the Wankhede dust bowl on their last visit to India, which resulted in the series going their way. This time I see the same outcome for India, for the regularity with which England are letting the game slip from their grasp, it’ll take a Herculean effort to turn it around.
Don’t they say that winning is a habit? Unfortunately, for England, so is losing.